SOMA Against Hate Collective Statement in response to racist attack on 5/8/2020
The members of the SOMA Against Hate Collective were incensed by the racist incident that
occurred almost a month ago in South Orange. On Friday, May 8th, Maplewood resident C.J.
Burgess came to assist her father, Aubrey Burgess, with his stalled car outside of his business
on South Orange Avenue. As C.J. was in the process of jumpstarting Aubrey’s car, Ryan
Pogany drove up and began berating them for blocking his ability to make deliveries for Bunny’s
restaurant, where he is employed. His tirade escalated from profanity to xenophobia, as Pogany
told Aubrey Burgess that he “didn’t know how things worked in this country,” and that he and
C.J. needed to “get out of his country.” When C.J. tried to protect her father from Pogany’s
vitriol, he called her a “n__ger b__ch.” The Burgesses reported Pogany to the South Orange
Police and C.J. posted her account of the incident on Facebook.
Once the incident became public, Bunny’s owners compounded the harm by trying to bully
the Burgesses into silence. Their attorney issued a letter full of veiled threats and using dog
whistles like “insolent” to describe C.J., an African American adult woman, as if she owed a duty
of deference to Ryan Pogany, son of Bunny’s owner, Leslie Pogany. Harris impugned the
character of a Navy veteran and accused C.J. of lying.
Bunny’s must reflect on the harm caused by Ryan Pogany’s verbal attack and recognize that
denial and defensiveness are not a path forward. SOMA Against Hate believes that businesses
that do not treat all people with respect and refuse accountability for the racist acts of their
personnel should not be patronized. SOMA Against Hate calls on our community to boycott
1. Bunny’s issues a sincere, complete apology to the Burgesses that admits that Pogany’s
xenophobic, racist and misogynistic tirade was completely unacceptable and
acknowledges the harm that the Burgesses suffered because of it. Bunny’s must also
acknowledge that their efforts to bully CJ into silence and question her honesty
compounded the harm.
2. Remove Ryan Pogany from a public- facing role in the business, as he has
demonstrated that his behavior endangers the public.
3. Have all management and staff undertake anti-bias training.
SOMA Against Hate also calls on The South Orange Village Center Alliance to remove
Leslie Pogany from its Board. Her actions in the wake of Ryan Pogany’s verbal attack are
evidence that she should not occupy a position of leadership in our town’s business community.
SOMA Against Hate was formed in the wake of an effort by white supremacist hate groups to
recruit in our community. Above all, we are committed to preserving South Orange and
Maplewood as a welcoming community where diversity is celebrated, rather than reviled or
feared. Our motto is that “Hate has no place in SOMA.” That applies to extremist outsiders and
local business people alike. When we say, “Hate has no place in SOMA,” we mean it.
SOMA Justice Petition
Community Coalition on Race Statement from May 18, 2020 (below)
SOMA Justice: Addressing Race and Inequality
Community Coalition on Race
SOMA Action Religious Justice Committee
SOMA Action Racial Justice Committee
Rev. Brenda Wheeler Ehlers, Morrow Church (for reference)
Rev. Janice Lynn, Morrow Church (for reference)
Rev. Dr. Terry Richardson
Rabbi Daniel Cohen and Max Weisenfeld on behalf of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel
Rabbi Jesse Olitzky, Rabbi Rachel Marder and Steve Weber on behalf of Congregation Beth El
Prior to the above statement issued by the Collective, the Coalition issued the statement below. In the intervening time, the Coalition has been working to develop more anti-bias training for the business community.
We are aware and deeply concerned about an incident with clear racial overtones that occurred in South Orange Village between a woman of color and her father who were made to feel unwelcome by an employee of a local business while he was working. The impact of this inappropriate and hurtful behavior by the employee has reverberated through our community, as have other incidents like this in the past. As an organization that has been called upon numerous times to work towards solutions over the years, we know that the impact on people of color of such inappropriate actions and the community as a whole is deeply felt, regardless of intention. We believe that, as in other instances of similar behavior, our community and those harmed would best be served by a sincere apology for the behavior, followed by training on anti-racism, equity, and bias. Our board will be discussing the role our organization can play in improving community relationships in the ways we have in the past, both publicly and privately through training, dialogue, and facilitation of resolutions.
If we are to be a racially integrated and truly inclusive community that is welcoming to all, we must find ways to assure people of color who live in, consider moving to, visit, and work in our towns, that they are safe and welcome and that we do not hide from having difficult conversations when that trust is broken. We know that dismantling racism must address how day-to-day acts of racism can come from individuals who believe themselves to be allies. And we recognize that community relationships and loyalties are complex. But creating a community that is safe for all requires that we address acts of racism each and every time. As we adapt to our new normal of social distancing during the pandemic, we will continue to explore methods to have these challenging conversations and bring about solutions.
Kelly Quirk, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Nancy Gagnier, Executive Director